I found Gladys awake when I returned from the garden: in spite of my anxiety, it gave me intense pleasure to hear her greeting words.
’Oh, Ursula, come and kiss me; it is good morning indeed. I woke so happy; everything is so lovely,—the sunshine, and the birds, and the flowers!’ And, with a smile, ’I wished somebody could have seen—“my thoughts of Max."’ And then, still holding me fast, ’I do not forget my poor boy, in spite of my happiness, but something tells me that Eric will soon come back.’
‘He might have been here now,’ I grumbled, ’if you had allowed me to tell your brother’; for those few reproachful words haunted me.
‘Yes, dear; I know I was wrong,’ she answered, with sweet candour. ’Giles is so kind now that I cannot think why I was so reserved with him; but of course,’ flushing a little, ‘I was afraid of Etta.’
‘I suppose that was the reason,’ I returned, busying myself about the room; for I did not care to pursue the subject. Mr. Hamilton’s few words had convinced me that he thought it would be wiser to leave Gladys in ignorance of what was going on until Miss Darrell was out of the house. She had borne so much, and was still weak and unfit for any great excitement. My great fear was lest Miss Darrell should force her way into Gladys’s presence and disturb her by a scene; and this fear kept me anxious and uneasy all day.
Gladys was a trifle restless; she wanted a drive again, and when I made her brother’s absence a pretext for refusing this, she pleaded for a stroll in the garden. It was with great difficulty that I at last induced her to remain quietly in her room. But when she saw that I was really serious she gave up her wishes very sweetly, and consoled herself by writing to Max, in answer to a letter that he had sent under cover to me.
It was nearly noon before Chatty brought me a message that Miss Darrell was just up and dressed, and wished to speak to me; and I went at once to her.
The usually luxurious room had an untidy and forlorn aspect. The crumpled Indian dressing-gown and the breakfast-tray littered the couch; ornaments, jewellery, and brushes strewed the dressing-table. Miss Darrell was sitting in an easy-chair by the open window. She did not move or glance as I entered in the full light. She looked pinched and old and plain. Her eyelids were swollen; her complexion had a yellowish whiteness; as I stood opposite to her, I could see gray hairs in the smooth dark head; before many years were over Miss Darrell would look an old woman. I could not help wondering, as I looked at her, how any one could have called her handsome.
‘Chatty says Leah has gone,’ she said, in a voice fretful with misery. ’I told her that that was too good news to be true. Is it true, Miss Garston?’
‘Yes; she has gone.’
‘I am glad of it,’ with a vixenish sharpness that surprised me. ’I hated that woman, and yet I was afraid of her too: she got me in her toils, and then I was helpless. Where has Giles gone, Miss Garston? Chatty said he went off in a dog-cart with his portmanteau.’